At the accident location
When an accident occurs, police are typically first on scene followed by fire and ambulance attendants. The roads are closed, and traffic is redirected from the scene. Anyone injured is immediately assisted and if necessary, taken by ambulance to the hospital. Police complete accident reports that include statements, names and photographs of the accident scene. Any injury that is significant, fatal, or if the accident requires greater investigation, a traffic analyist will be called to the scene before the vehicles are removed. Once police have completed their initial investigation, the cleanup begins, and the tow trucks are dispatched.
Tow trucks are typically the last people involved at the accident scene. They recover and load the vehicles, sweep up the debris, mop up the fluids spilled and must make sure that the street is free of any debris that could cause another accident or injury. Vehicles are then delivered to the tow yard where they are unloaded in a stall or put into a secure bay for further investigation. This all comes at a large expense, but to whom?
Accessing your vehicle
There is necessary information required before you will be allowed access to, or contents from your vehicle. Please remember that even if you come with everything prepared this will not guarantee that you will get what you need on your first visit.
First, the police must authorize anyone’s access to the vehicle and then your insurance company must do the same. There may be an investigation or questions as to cause or fault and access could compromise this process. Sometimes vehicles are towed out of the yard to a provincially licensed inspection facility for a mechanical inspection and the vehicle will be held until the investigation is completed. This can be a frustrating wait time so follow up with the police if you are not permitted access in a reasonable time.
Tow yards are given no information about who the registered owner is, if there is any insurance on the vehicles, who is at fault or who is responsible to cover the costs of the recovery, cleanup, tow and storage of the vehicle. This is where you may have a problem when you arrive at the tow yard trying to get your keys, wallet, or your family members belongings.
Before you go to the tow yard report your claim with your insurance providers and record the claim number, adjuster’s name, phone number and email of your insurance adjuster. The best thing is to ask your adjuster to contact the tow yard directly and speak with staff before you arrive. Remember, just because you have a claim number it does not mean that you will be covered for your accident. A claim number is only an indication that you have reported the accident and the process has started.
The tow yard will ask you for the vehicle make, model, color, and the license plate number. There are often hundreds of vehicles in large compounds and finding the white car is time consuming and often impossible without information. Next is to prove you are the registered owner or have legal authorization to access and retrieve the contents. Contents legally belong to the registered owner and until proof of ownership is established, they can not be released to anyone. Tow companies are legally responsible for the vehicle and to make sure that the rightful owner gets their property. Insurance documents that match your ID will be required as proof. Staff will record your claim and personal information.
The next step is to determine who is responsible for the tow and storage bills. This is where it gets complicated and tempers can flare. Fault must be determined and then insurance from the party responsible must be confirmed. Insurance and ownership information is not shared, and the tow yard may not even know who owns the other vehicles involved. This is where an open line of communication between your insurance adjuster and the yard staff is critical.
If you are in urgent need of your contents the tow yard will often require you to pay the tow bill as of that date. As unfair as this seems there are a few complications that tow yards face. Often, once people retrieve their belongings, they cancel the claim, the insurance claim may be denied if there is a breech in policy, the cost may exceed the benefit in pursuing the claim and people abandon the vehicles in the yard, especially older vehicles. Legal disputes about who is at fault can create lengthy delays of a few weeks to a few years. There are different levels of insurance and basic insurance does not cover the cost of the tow, recovery, storage and repairs to your vehicle if you are found to be at fault. Abandoned vehicles, take months and cost tow companies hundreds of dollars to legally dispose of. So, when you arrive be prepared to have to pay the bill in advance. You will be reimbursed by the insurance company when your claim is processed.
What happens if you can not pay the bill to get your contents? Communication with your insurance provider is key. If the tow yard can communicate directly with the insurance company and get some guarantee in writing that the expenses will be covered, they will often let you take some of your items. This is where being prepared with as much information as possible will be helpful.
Insurance companies do not just accept the claims and pay the bills, they first establish fault, and coverage, as these claims are costly and some result in legal action. Police accident reports determine fault. If the other party does not report or have insurance, your adjuster will start to process the claim under your comprehensive insurance policy until the other party responds. Your vehicle could sit in the yard waiting for process details to be negotiated while storage costs accrue. The biggest problem will be if your insurance is invalid and the other party at fault is not insured. To avoid large bills in the event you are not covered, be diligent in getting information from your insurance provider, respond to all requests quickly, and if necessary pay your bill and sign the vehicle over to the tow yard for crush to avoid small claims action.
The staff at the front counter have limited ability to override company policy. Politely ask to speak with a manager or owner of the business. Upper management will consider the situation, and if you are kind, cooperative, and honest, they will often let you take a few necessary items from your vehicle until your claim is verified. Offering to pay a portion of the outstanding bill, is another good way to help establish a positive relationship. Tow yards work closely with police and insurance companies and can be an advocate for your claim.
Once the claim has been settled your vehicle will be towed for repair or you will receive a settlement offer. Vehicles that are written off are sold to salvage yards for parts to offset the expenses to the claim. If your vehicle is sold for salvage, return to the yard immediately for any remaining belongings because tow yards do not empty vehicles and store contents until you can collect them. You will be permitted to take anything from the vehicle that is not bolted down or considered stock. Compensation for minor injury medical expenses will be included in the settlement agreement. Do not sign anything if you think that what is offered will not cover your current or future medical expenses and seek legal advice.
Serious injury accidents
What if you are seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident? This is where legal advice from our personal injury lawyers is recommended before discussing anything with the insurance companies. In addition to the challenges discussed there are medical costs, rehabilitation, calculating current and future loss of income, and more importantly future medical and living expenses need to be taken into consideration when negotiating a serious injury claim. There is no fee for your first consultation to discuss your case. The lawyers at Wishart Brain and Spine Law work on a contingency basis which means that you do not pay for legal services upfront. The settlement fees received cover any legal fees incurred during your claim process and if you are not successful in your claim you will not be charged for those legal services. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about your claim.